Dog Owners Can Be Criminally Liable for Serious and Deadly Attacks
The horrific mauling in January 2017 of a 96-year-old Germantown woman by a pair of dogs raises the specter of criminal liability for the owner of the dogs. Pennsylvania law offers great protection to dog owners, so victims bringing civil lawsuits or pressing criminal charges often have a tough case to make.
Pennsylvania is a “one-bite rule” state, so in most cases, a dog owner is not liable civilly or criminally the first time a dog bites a person unless the dog has shown a tendency to bite. If the dog has not bitten a person before, the rules are different depending on the severity of the injury. “[A]ny physical injury that results in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations requiring multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery” qualifies as a severe injury. Dog owners are liable for damages, including medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering. But what about criminal liability?
The Pennsylvania Code § 21.4 provides for three possible charges related to dog attacks:
- Failure to register and restrain a dangerous dog — A person who fails to properly register a dangerous dog, maintain liability insurance, keep the dog in the proper enclosure or have the dog under proper physical restraint when outside the enclosure is guilty of a misdemeanor of the third degree with a maximum sentence of one year.
- Attack by a dangerous dog — An owner who, through intentional, reckless or negligent conduct, causes a dangerous dog to aggressively attack a human being is guilty of a misdemeanor in the second degree, allowing for a maximum sentence of two years.
- Attack by a dangerous dog leading to serious injury — An owner who, through intentional, reckless or negligent conduct, causes a dangerous dog to aggressively attack a human being, causing severe injury or death, is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, allowing for a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The dog shall be seized and destroyed.
However, all of these charges depend on a finding that the dog was “dangerous.” That means the dog had a history of unprovoked attack or had shown a propensity toward unprovoked attack prior to the attack in question.
David R. Eshelman represents criminal defendants in the Reading area, including dog owners whose animals attack and severely injure others. If you are charged with a serious crime, protect your rights by meeting with criminal defense attorney David R. Eshelman today.